My tires for this one were at the beginning of their noticeable decline. The thing with the RE-71Rs on big, heavy cars that I’ve noticed over the years is that you’ll typically get about 75 good runs out of them before you have to flip them on the wheel. The trouble is that they’re never really the same after that. Sure, you can get about 140 to 160 total runs on a set, but the magic is gone.
This event was with all four tires flipped, and the car was understeering quite a bit in the morning. A rear shock adjustment made things better, but still not quite where I felt the car would be on fresher tires. It also didn’t help that we were hosing down the tires after every run in the afternoon to keep them from getting too hot and greasy by the end of the run.
Also, from the urging of another photographer, I decided to change up my approach to shooting an event. There were a couple of minor growing pains, for sure, but overall, I was pleased with the results. You can find those photos here.
This might have been one of the best courses Steel Cities has had (outside of the Match tours) in a very long time. And yes, I’m blowing my own horn a bit because I “designed” part of it. And by “designed” I mean someone else drew a line on a map of the VDA and it was my job to come up with something that got you from the start to the Sandbox. Two other people came up with the final 2/3rds of the course.
This was also the first event where my co-driver was leading after the morning runs. It may have taken him a while, but he finally seemed to be getting the hang of the car. However, I finally got a few turns right on a flyer in the afternoon and that was all I needed to go up half a second.
Ultimately, we ended up with something fast, fun, and rewarding:
Mid-State Airport, the only place I know of with worse cell phone coverage than my house.
The biggest weekend of the year for the Central PA Region is always a good time, but admittedly, I didn’t drive my best. The courses were a touch narrow for a large lump of American Muscle, so a lot of places where smaller cars were going flat out, I had to be on the brakes just to make it through a few elements. In the end, I wound up with the second most cones hit for the two day event (earning me a $10 gift card to Subway and a destroyed cone!).
This might be the event I can point to and say that yes, I might actually know what I’m doing in a car around an autox course.
For this event, I parked the Mustang and jumped into my buddy’s 2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe running in G Street for the event. I had driven the same car in the pouring rain for a couple of runs around the 2018 Nationals Test & Tune course and I marveled at how much grip it had even in those conditions. Since we were both signed up for the Champ, I decided to ask him if he’d be kind enough to let me be his tire warmer. Little did I know that I’d be doing much more than that.
After a few runs on day one, trying to sort out line choice and shifting strategy, I was genuinely shocked to find out I was in 3rd heading into my final run of that day. And while I stayed in that spot, I put down a flyer to get me within a tenth of the lead.
I basically drove with zero pressure, zero expectations, and zero fear in a car that was actually at the pointy end of the class, not an also-ran like my Mustang. The result was being faster than many very experienced drivers and being right off the pace of a National Champion.
My day two start was a bit shaky. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was tire temps (it had cooled down significantly since the day before), but I wasn’t getting the car to stick how I had wanted it. I was off the pace by quite a bit for my first two runs, but once there was a bit of heat in the rear tires and I had confidence in the car, I put down the fastest G Street time of the day. Unfortunately for me, the National Champ in front of me did National Champ things and ended up edging me out by just over 7 hundredths of a second.
So, does anyone have a gently used 10th Gen Si they wanna sell me?
I’ve always liked Match Tours and it was pretty sad to see them shrink down to just two of them in the country. How Day Two of them ran really needed to be fixed, but it never really did.
That said, though, I still managed to have quite a good time at the Bristol Match Tour despite the very hot and humid conditions…and getting blown out of the water by a very fast M3 driver. Realistically, my goal was a 2nd place finish. I missed out on that by only a few tenths, and a cone took away 3rd, which left me in 4th behind a co-driven M3 with two very capable drivers behind the wheel. Still, 4th was a trophy spot.
On Sunday, I decided to at least do the morning portion to see if I could improve. Turns out I put down a time that had I ran it once the day before, I would have met my goal of 2nd in class. And that, I was proud of:
It also did highlight (and sort of foreshadow) the fact that maybe it isn’t my driving that’s holding me back. Sure, I could have picked up a couple of tenths here and there…we call can on every run…but there isn’t much I can do when I’m on the limiter for so much of a run with no convenient place to upshift or downshift. A F Street E9X M3 can go roughly 9 mph faster than me in second gear. That’s quite a significant difference that I can’t overcome. Still, again, I was happy with how I drove.
Event 4 was awfully tough from a PAX standpoint. We had a fairly open, fast, National-event-style course (albeit shorter) combined with a fairly large number of very fast people showing up. I felt like I might have been able to drive a little bit better, but considering who showed up, a 20th in PAX was actually quite respectable when the top 40 all could threaten to be in the top 10.
On top of that, I had left my MicroSD card for my GoPro at home that day and I didn’t have a spare, so I didn’t have any video of any of my runs to pour over to see where I could be making mistakes and where I could improve. I only had SoloStorm traces to work with.
Still, a decent showing despite what was essentially a mini-Match Tour thanks to who showed up and how many people in total showed up.
This event was the first time in a while where I had runs that felt good (not necessarily mistake-free) from the start to the finish. I managed to put down a class-winning time on my first run out, but by the end, I knocked another 4 tenths off of that time.
It was also a good event to figure out how to manage tire temperatures with two drivers thanks to a laser thermometer I got a hold of. In the cooler morning runs, it was nothing but blankets after every run. For the afternoon, we started with the blankets, but switched to spraying down one side thanks to tire temps reaching north of 170 degrees coming off of a run. Bridgestones tend to get greasy when you get to those temps. They seem to really like the 130-150 range, and we tried to have the tires right around 120 when the car was at the line. That way they most likely wouldn’t be overheated by the end of the run.
There was also a whole bunch of activity going on at PittRace besides us. It was for all intents and purposes a SCCA takeover. Track Night…er…Morning in America, Formula 3 & 4, plus the new Time Trials. In addition to getting my regular event photos, I also got photos of a few groups of the Time Trial going on.
It was a shame we didn’t have the weather we had on Friday all weekend, but that’s life. Saturday morning started out in drying…sludge…conditions, where even the tiniest trip off of the established line punished you severely.
While working course during the morning heat, things were drying out quite nicely, and there was even a glimmer of sunshine for a brief, fleeting moment, but that came and went as quickly as the CAM-S cars past my assigned cones to watch.
By the time I finished up my morning work assignment, I was soaked to the bone. We decided to switch off of my Bridgestones and on to my Contis, which, oddly enough, would be the first time I’ve ever tried them in truly wet conditions. I can report that they do, in fact, live up to the hype!
I decided not to run on Sunday, but instead take photos of S4, a class in which the first place FS driver (me) finished 13th. Kind of hard to compete with all the AWD boost buggies in DS when there’s water on the course and there was no way my times were improving.
First outing of the year in the Miata for me. It was quite a long while since I last drove it in anger and I wasn’t too sure I’d remember how to get the most out of the little guy. Fortunately, it only really took me 3 runs to get the hang of it again. I ended up being really consistent in it, with 5 of my 7 runs being within 0.2 of each other.
I should be happy with a 2nd in PAX, but looking at the data, I left a little time out there on all my 37.1XX runs. While 2 tenths of a second doesn’t sound like much, at all, I did lose out on my first top PAX…again…by only 0.076 seconds.
It was the first actual event for my co-driver. Moving from a WRX to a Mustang, especially on the PittRace VDA, is a brave task. I have confidence that he’ll find the limit sooner rather than later. It doesn’t help that he started driving the car at its worst with last year’s tires on it, but even I have trouble getting used to the grip again. It also didn’t help that the weather was iffy for our heat: